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PA Family Sues Over Death After 10 911 Calls

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on October 04, 2010 7:07 AM

At a young age, every child is taught to dial 911 in case of an emergency. The three digit phone number is specifically reserved for emergencies, in which dispatchers are available at all hours of the day to assist people in need, and immediately send the necessary services to a given location. The system is not perfect. A Pennsylvania family is suing over a death that occurred after the family made 10 911 calls and waited 30 hours for help to arrive.

MSNBC reports on the tragedy, quoting the family's attorney, Alan Perer: "This case represented a breakdown of the entire EMS and 911 system from the top-down. It was just sort of a perfect storm of errors and tragic failures. Some of the actions of individual employees were really outrageous."

Fifty year-old Curtis Mitchell died during a heavy snow storm in Pennsylvania this past February. Mitchell's girlfriend tried calling paramedics multiple times, but the crews claimed they were unable to reach the house because of the snow. The complaint alleges that the paramedics suggested Mitchell walk to them, or take a bus to reach the medical help he needed. Ultimately, when Mitchell could not walk to the ambulance, it left.

This case represents an interesting loophole in suing city and public officials. Although state laws exempt a city from certain types of claims, especially those in emergency-type situations, when a plaintiff can show "gross or negligent conduct" on behalf of the employees, then the suit can proceed. Intentional torts are believed to fall outside the scope of government employment. Following the death of Curtis Mitchell, one paramedic was fired and three others were suspended.

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